Rangers Tie Series: Shesterkin’s 39 saves the difference in a 5-2 win over Pens, Panarin and Vatrano combine for six points, Carter runs Igor, Goodrow week-to-week

They’ve waited five years and one day for this. A Rangers win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They picked up their first postseason victory since May 4, 2017.

Igor Shesterkin starred by making 39 saves on 41 shots to backstop the Rangers to a 5-2 win over the Penguins to take Game Two at a raucous environment in Madison Square Garden.

Without the Vezina winner which even Game One triple overtime hero Evgeni Malkin declared that Shesterkin made 79 saves in, this first round series isn’t tied headed back to Pittsburgh.

The amount of pressure he faced at the start of the third period was insane. It got a little too close for comfort following Sidney Crosby’s goal that made it 3-2 with 1:26 left in the second. His rebound of a Bryan Rust backhand where the Rangers had four players stick check made life difficult.

If there’s an area of concern, it’s how they’ve defended in front of Shesterkin. You can’t always expect the last line of defense to bail you out. However, nobody can dispute how special he is. He really bailed his teammates out in the first six minutes of the third.

It was literally a Pens’ shooting gallery as they were like killer bees in search of the equalizer. Fortunately, it never came. Shesterkin stopped the first nine shots of the period.

That included a huge save on Crosby and a highlight reel left pad denial on a wide open Malkin. Following a shift, he was left shaking his head and shouting expletives on the Pittsburgh bench.

Thankfully, following an Andrew Copp shot on Pens starter Louis Domingue, the Blueshirts remembered to play hockey. After fanning on a one-timer, Artemi Panarin had a shot attempt from a tough angle take a favorable carom off Mike Matheson past Domingue for a big goal that gave the Rangers some breathing room.

Arguably their best forward, Frank Vatrano exploded into the Pittsburgh zone and scored on a snapshot from the right circle to extend the lead to 5-2 with 10:11 remaining. That gave them two goals in 1:47.

Although they kept attacking, the Pens never recovered. Shesterkin wouldn’t allow them to get any closer. His 16 third period saves proved large in earning his first career postseason win.

Somehow, the media who cover these games didn’t think he was the game’s First Star. There’s no doubt he was. I also didn’t agree with the selection of Panarin as one of the three stars. As well as he played offensively, his line also got caught on for both Penguin goals.

I felt Vatrano deserved at least the Second Star. He had a very good game, tallying a goal and two assists in the victory. His speed and ability to find space was instrumental. The former Panther had a game. He was splendid throughout.

Prior to the game, key players for both sides were out. For the Broadway side, Ryan Lindgren (game-time decision) and Barclay Goodrow (lower-body) were out of the lineup. Replacing them were Justin Braun and Dryden Hunt.

On the Steel City side, Brian Dumoulin (game-time decision) and Rickard Rakell (upper-body) didn’t dress. Mark Friedman and Drew O’Connor took their place.

In terms of what it meant, Braun paired alongside Adam Fox on the Rangers’ top pair. Hunt was on the checking line with Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves. Here’s how the Pens lined up.

As expected, Gerard Gallant kept his top three lines intact. With the two changes in the lineup, this is how the Rangers lined up.

At the start of the game, you could feel the energy coming through the TV. Our Dad made it along with his referee partner Tommy. The building was rocking. Everyone knew what this game meant.

One thing also evident was the boos the officials received as they arrived on the ice. When it comes to The Garden, fans don’t forget. Even if that’s not why the Rangers lost that wild marathon, you knew there’d be some animosity. That’s what makes it such a great atmosphere.

My Pens friend Alyssa admitted in her Game One review on her YouTube channel that she really loved the environment. It sounds like she’d like to get out to a game at MSG. It’s definitely worth the trip.

The top story was how would our side manage the tough match-up against the Sidney Crosby line with Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. They had their way in Game One. Without Lindgren, it sure wasn’t easy.

Neither were the stripes missing an obvious cross-check on Adam Fox in the early going. Of course, they called a softer minor on Nemeth for cross-checking Marcus Pettersson. That drew the ire of the crowd.

If there was a positive, the penalty kill did a superb job on that first Pens power play. They didn’t get much set up. Even minus Goodrow, who sounds like we might not see him the rest of the series (week-to-week), the penalty killers really stepped up. That included Braun, who made a nice play to get a key clear.

Buoyed on by that successful kill, it was the home team that struck first. On a Braun pass for Panarin, he had all sorts of room to move down low before finding Copp for the game’s first goal at 6:50. His one-timer deflected off Crosby and Mike Matheson past Domingue.

On the next shift, the top line nearly doubled the lead. Off a good pass across on the doorstep, Mika Zibanejad thought he had one. But only the unorthodox right glove of Domingue prevented his first of this postseason. It was a big early save.

Instead of being up by two, it still was a one-goal game. That’s when they got sloppy. A bit like the first game, a turnover led directly to the Pens tying it.

A bad Panarin giveaway allowed Crosby to transition quickly. Pettersson helped set up Guentzel for his third in two games at 8:52. It was another Pittsburgh goal in response to a Ranger goal. It came 2:02 later.

If there’s an alarming trend so far, it’s been the Pens’ ability to come right back after getting scored on. It’s like our players forget to play the next shift. This can’t continue when the series shifts to Pittsburgh.

On an effective shift by the first round Pick line, Filip Chytil had another good opportunity to score. But his shot was denied by a sharp Domingue. He made several good stops in the opening period.

Finally, it was Shesterkin’s turn. On a quick up by the Penguins’ third line, he shut down Teddy Blueger to keep the game tied. It was a tough low shot through a screen. Something the Pens did well.

There were a few shaky moments defensively. The Pittsburgh puck pressure created some turnovers. The Rangers must do a better job taking care of the puck when we get to Game Three. Puck management is a huge key to the series.

Late in the period, some good passing saw a pinching Jacob Trouba with plenty of room in the slot. But his shot was easily gloved by Domingue, who stopped 13 of 14 shots in the first.

Right as the period was concluding, Crosby got away with one. He slashed Fox right in front of the linesmen. No call. It was ridiculous. The refs heard it from the crowd. Gallant was incensed.

As you can grasp, I had one observation that had to be repeated. To be fair, both teams had their share of turnovers. That’s due to the forecheck pressure. It’s the aggressor who dictates the terms that forces those mistakes.

Following an early Shesterkin save in the first minute of the second period, finally the Penguins were penalized for the first time since the first period of Game One. John Marino got nabbed for a cross-check on Copp.

The power play went to work. They sure got their looks. Even as the Pens tried to take away Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, they made the necessary adjustment to cash in on the penalty.

With time winding down, Panarin made a good pass for a quick Fox one-timer that Ryan Strome redirected for his first of the postseason at 2:59. Perfectly executed. It was a nice reward for Strome after he had a good first game.

Leading for the second time, they put together consecutive strong shifts. Good pressure from Fox helped set up a Kreider shot that just missed. Then, Strome had a clear lane, but passed instead of shot. Next time, take the shot.

Right afterwards, another turnover allowed Rust to get behind for a clean breakaway. But his high shot missed wide. Crosby’s follow-up was stopped by a quick reacting Shesterkin who covered the puck.

When they returned to action, they showed Yankees D.J. LeMahieu, Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo on the big screen. They certainly were enjoying their $25 beers. Kidding. One day soon though. Dolan is a con artist.

On their best shift so far, the third line did a good job moving their feet to create a good scoring chance off the cycle. Alexis Lafreniere recovered a wide Kaapo Kakko shot and then made a good back pass for a Nemeth shot that Domingue gloved. Their speed is noticeable so far.

Crosby made a great defensive play on the back check to break up a Ranger opportunity. He then turned the puck the other way where Guentzel was denied by Shesterkin. That was a big save.

The Rangers increased their lead to 3-1 thanks to some stellar work from K’Andre Miller and Vatrano. On some good teamwork started by Miller, he passed for a Vatrano one-timer that Kreider deflected over the blocker of Domingue for a two-goal lead with 7:54 remaining.

After Sullivan delayed at the Penguins bench to see if there was something to challenge, they didn’t. He later indicated in the postgame they were looking at a possible high stick prior to the goal. Instead, Kreider’s second stood from Vatrano and Miller at 12:06.

Panarin drew a holding minor on Kasperi Kapanen. It wasn’t a lot. But he grabbed Panarin enough to get called. This is where they really could’ve put some distance between them and their dangerous opponent.

For nearly the entire power play, the vaunted top unit had the puck on a string. They had at least four great chances to make it a perfect three-for-three. First, Fox had Zibanejad all set up. But he fired the one-timer back into Domingue with room on the short side.

Kreider came close in front. So did Strome. Panarin held the puck for seemingly ever, but was reluctant to shoot. When he finally did, he missed high glove wide. The Pens’ penalty killers were exhausted. It was a wasted opportunity.

Late in the second, some very lazy defensive play allowed Crosby to get his first of the series. He skated one on four into the Ranger zone. Instead of putting a body on one of the all-time greats, they all stick checked.

Finally, Braun got beat twice. Crosby got a pass for a Rust backhand that rebounded right to him to cut the deficit to one with 1:26 left. It was a brutal sequence. Trouba was on along with the Panarin line, who just puck watched. As good offensively as he was, the Bread Man was inept defensively. That can’t happen.

At the start of the third, you wanted to see the Blueshirts put the pedal to the metal. Instead, they looked lethargic. It was all Pens. They got the first nine shots on Shesterkin, who was at his absolute best denying tying bids by Crosby and Malkin. The latter which was the save of the game.

After a long Copp shot stopped the momentum, they finally played hockey. On some sustained pressure, the second line got it done.

Following fanning on a one-timer, Panarin took a Vatrano feed and decided to throw the puck in front. Intentional or not, it went right off Matheson and in for his first at 8:02. Miller picked up his second assist on the crucial goal that allowed the building to breathe easier.

Less than two minutes later, this time Braden Schneider made a good cross-ice pass to Vatrano who went around Matheson and fired a wrist shot from the right circle past Domingue off the far goalpost. That made it 5-2 with 10:11 remaining.

Although they never gave up, the Penguins ran into the Igor Wall. He stopped all 16 shots in the third. Despite allowing four goals in Game One, he has a .952 save percentage for the series. That’s due to facing 124 shots in nine periods. After stopping a franchise record 79 on 83 in the first game, Shesterkin turned aside 39 on 41 last night.

Once it was decided, there was a little nastiness. As to be expected. Chytil responded to a two-hander by Brock McGinn with a slash to earn both minors with under nine minutes left.

Most notably, with the Pens on the attack skating six-on-five, Shesterkin was banged into by a forechecking Jeff Carter who sent him flying with 2:04 to go. At first glance, it looked intentional. But after watching the replay, he tried to avoid him.

Shesterkin put himself in a tough spot due to an awkward exchange with Fox behind his net. He likes to play as many pucks as possible. At that point, he would’ve been better off in the crease. Instead, Carter knocked him down where he was laying flat on the ice for a few minutes. Fortunately, he was okay.

The strong response from Lafreniere who went after Carter was excellent. He got involved and stood up for his goalie. They gave Lafreniere and Carter roughing minors with the latter also receiving two for goaltender interference. The right call.

With his team on a late five-on-four, Gallant wisely sent out his fourth line. That included Ryan Reaves, who banged a Pen on the power play. Reaves had a good night. He finished with six hits and made a couple of defensive plays thanks to sheer hustle. A few of the top forwards can learn a thing from how hard he competes.

After an Evan Rodrigues slash on Miller, the fourth line again came out to run down the final 30 seconds of a five-on-three. There were plenty of cheers. The fans saluted their heroes who made sure to salute them back when the buzzer sounded.

The best-of-seven first round series is now all tied. It wasn’t perfect. Something Gallant was sure to point out. There’s work to be done. That includes the way he coaches against Sullivan, who thus far has dictated the chess match.

I’ll be curious to see what adjustments we see when the Pens get the final change. Will we see Gallant change on the fly? Something Sullivan executed well at MSG. That along with being able to stifle the Crosby line will be vital. They held Malkin without a point.

If you’re looking at the face-offs, the Rangers weren’t bad. They won 27 out of 58. However, Pittsburgh is very good at running set plays in the offensive zone. They’ve won some draws clean to get chances.

Without Goodrow, that takes away one of the battle tested gritty forwards who excels. You’ll likely see the same lineup with possibly Lindgren back on Saturday. Dumoulin is also close to returning for the Pens.

I’ll have more tomorrow on the off day. I’m sure there will be updates.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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